Thoughts on Evil: Part 2, “The Enemy Inside”

Building off some of Wink’s ideas concerning Powers, Evil, and the Demonic, I thought it a good time to say something important about humility when dealing with the issue of evil. I find the grotesque images of evil that pop-culture renders to be incredibly absurd. The images of the demon-possessed girl in “The Exorcist” come to mind. Have you ever asked yourself, “Why does pop-culture want evil to look like that?” I am not a psychologist (and I would incredibly interested to know what Richard Beck thinks about this), but I cannot help but wonder if this is a kind of cultural exercise in projection.

Whether or not it is technically “projection,” it seems to me that pop-culture renders evil and the demonic in such grotesque ways as a sort of defense mechanism to say that “true evil does not abide with me or I would know it because it looks something like this.” How convenient. It is also interesting to me that pop-culture renders evil as explicitly religious. Perhaps this is a cultural critique of religion’s inability to deal with the evil in our world. Or perhaps we think evil only operates against those institutions and forces that are explicitly religious or “pro-good.” But allow me, for a moment, to sweepingly deny that either of these are true renderings of evil or the demonic.

In my first post “Thoughts on Evil: Part 1” I said this: “I have a scarier thought. What if evil and the demonic were much more subtle and more difficult to notice than the extreme renderings of pop-evil?” In other words, what if we abide with evil more closely than we wish.

In his wonderful book “Community and Growth,” Jean Vanier notes that even well-intentioned movements (and people) can be overcome with evil and corrupted with power – in other words, they can become demonic. He says that this is the difference between “groups” and spirit-filled “communities.” Spirit-filled communities are always looking inward with a keen eye to examine our own motives, our own ends and means.

“There are more and more groups today oriented towards issues and causes. There are peace movements, ecological movements, movements for oppressed people, for the liberation of women, against torture, etc. Each movement is important and, if they are based in a community life and the growing consciousness that in each person there is a world of darkness, fear, and hate, they can radiate truth and freedom, and work towards justice and peace in the world. If not, they can become very aggressive and divide the world between oppressors and the oppressed, the good and the bad. There seems to be a need in human beings to see evil and combat it outside oneself, in order not to see it inside oneself.

The difference between a community and a group that is only issue-oriented, is that the latter see the enemy outside the group. The struggle is an external one; and there will be a winner and a loser. The group knows it is right and has the truth, and wants to impose it. The members of a community know that the struggle is inside each person and inside the community; it is against all the powers of pride, elitism, hate and depression that are there and which hurt and crush others, and which cause division and war of all sorts. The enemy is inside, not outside.”

From time to time, I revisit the powerful introduction to Thomas A Kempis’ “Imitation of Christ.” Kempis begins this work by calling the would be follower (imitator) of Christ to humility.

A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of all lessons. To take no account of oneself, but always to think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection. Should you see another person openly doing evil, or carrying out a wicked purpose, do not on that account consider yourself better than him, for you cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace. We are all frail; consider none more frail than yourself.

If we believe that evil is only manifested in the grotesque renderings of pop-culture and films like “The Devil Inside,” then the probability of examining our own hearts and searching for and rooting out the evil is unlikely. We have accepted, instead, that evil is only in the extreme and grotesque. It is outside of us. Beyond me and my community. It is “out there.” It is inside someone else – conveniently, it is often our enemy.

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